True or False: Never Wake a Sleepwalker
If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night to find someone sleepwalking around the house, you know that it’s an unnerving experience. But should you wake the person up? Some people argue that waking sleepwalkers will confuse and anger them, possibly endangering the person doing the waking. Others believe that sleepwalkers should be woken up because they may harm themselves if left alone. Sleepwalking is called a disorder of arousal, and family history is usually what determines whether or not a person will be a sleepwalker. Common triggers, such as sedatives, medications, or fever, will often only affect those people who are predisposed to sleepwalking. About 18% of the population is prone to sleepwalking, and sleepwalking is common in children (especially those whose parents were sleepwalkers when they were young). Most children who start sleepwalking at an early age outgrow it by the time they reach adolescence. However, if children start sleepwalking after age 9 it is likely that they will continue into adulthood.
Evidence for the Health ClaimThe idea that sleepwalkers should not be woken up is a widely held belief. Some people think waking the sleepwalker will increase his risk of a heart attack . However, most believe that the person doing the walking is at a greater risk for harm. Research on similar forms of sleep pathology has found that some people do get aggressive when woken up from the non-REM (rapid eye movement) phase of the sleep cycle (which is when sleepwalking occurs). One study attributed 20 cases of murder and 30 criminal offenses to “sleep drunkenness,” a condition similar to sleepwalking. Other studies also caution against waking up sleepwalkers because of possible resistance and violence.